D.C. confab boosts biz's economic impact

WASHINGTON — The Motion Picture Assn. of America’s much-hyped Tuesday symposium “The Business of Show Business” alternately celebrated and promoted Hollywood’s importance to the U.S. economy.

During the daylong confab — attended by several members of Congress, their staffers, film students and industry players — the MPAA released a report supporting the claim.

According to the report, Hollywood accounts for 1.3 million jobs, pays $30.24 billion in wages to workers and delivers $10 billion in federal and state taxes annually.

PricewaterhouseCooper predicts the movie industry will gross $104 billion worldwide this year, one speaker noted. Various experts said that figure would be about $6 billion higher were it not for piracy.

A bevy of Hollywood execs and insiders said the movie industry is an enormous contributor of jobs and tax revenue to the U.S. economy, but piracy threatens to undermine the very foundation of the business unless Congress enacts more and better intellectual-property protection.

Oscar nominee Will Smith, who gave the opening keynote address, said that despite glamour and fame, the real Hollywood consists of “carpenters and builders” and others whose livelihoods are threatened by piracy.

The digital age, Sony Pictures Entertainment topper Michael Lynton said, has thrust Hollywood into an “exciting yet frightening time. It’s exciting because building a brand-new business around content already produced for theaters and TV screens holds great promise for us. But it’s frightening because the same technology that makes this business possible also makes a new business possible for film pirates, too.”

Lynton emphasized that studios were adapting to new technologies, particularly the Internet, and will profit from the effort. “But it cannot happen if we do not safeguard the fruit of our labor,” he continued. “We’re here to say we need stronger laws around the world to protect intellectual property. And we need help in enforcing those laws.”

Producers and directors on panels told how on-location shooting for movies and television frequently increases tourism for the location.

During a luncheon break, Warner Bros. chairman Barry Meyer rebutted points that Consumer Electronics Assn. topper Gary Shapiro made recently in a speech. CEA and Hollywood have been at odds over digital technology, which Shapiro said studios are essentially against if it threatens their business models even with legit uses.

Meyer insisted Hollywood is not against new technology, just against free distribution of protected content.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, pledged support for better IP protection, as did Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The lawmakers acknowledged the economic importance of the movie biz and the need to protect it, but also lectured the industry that it, in turn, has responsibilities, particularly involving sexual and violent content.

“But for God’s sake, take an interest in this country,” Rangel added. “There’s no excuse in a nation great as we are, rich as we are, that there should be poverty.”

He urged Hollywood to tell more stories about the less fortunate, such as “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined the collective denunciation of piracy — and the ease with which so many pirates operate — but then scolded the industry for producing “far too many movies with little or no social redeeming values.” Movies that “exploit sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence,” she said, “that degrade women, glamorize murder, dehumanize and desensitize.

“I urge each of you to create those products that you can stand proudly behind.”

Smith said he once explained to a foreign reporter, who asked why U.S. movies have happy endings, that the U.S. is the land of hope and promise, and Hollywood happy endings are a “direct descendant of American dream.”

For more on the confab, visit Variety’s political blog, www.wilshireandwashington.com.

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